Delbert McClinton: Live

Hank Kalet

Delbert Mcclinton


Label: New West
US Release Date: 2003-10-21
UK Release Date: 2003-11-03

Delbert McClinton may open his latest disc, Live, with the song "Old Weakness", but there is nothing weak about this cranked up live outing.

Recorded by a Norwegian radio station at the Bergen Blues Festival in Norway last year, this double disc pulls out all the stops, McClinton's crack band amplifying the energy already apparent on his studio discs and proving that the best way to appreciate what McClinton brings to the table is to catch him live.

McClinton, who has been plying his trade for going on 45 years, is a real throw back, a white Texas bluesman who leaves everything out on the stage. That effort and intensity is captured here, with 19 songs that span his long career.

McClinton, born in Lubbock, Texas, in 1940, began playing harmonica in the bars around Lubbock and El Paso, backing everyone from Howlin' Wolf and Jimmy Reed to Sonny Boy Williamson II and Bobby "Blue" Bland. He played harmonica on Bruce Channel's 1962 number 1 hit, "Hey Baby" and spent much of the 1960s playing the Texas club circuit.

His solo career kicked off in the mid-'70s and he managed a Top Ten hit with "Giving It Up for Your Love" in 1980, while his songs were played by a diverse array of performers, including the Blues Brothers and Emmylou Harris (who topped the country charts with his "Two More Bottles of Wine"). While he has only moderate chart success, he has won two Grammy awards and has been nominated numerous times.

McClinton often is labeled a blues singer and his blues lineage is fairly obvious, especially if you listen to some of the later Chicago bluesmen like Bland or even B.B. King. But as Steve Huey writes on All Music Guide (, the Texan really defies simple categorization, weaving the various strands of so-called roots music -- everything from country and blues, to soul, R&B, rock and roll, and even some Latin flavorings -- "as if there were no distinctions between any of them in the best time-honored Texas tradition."

While eight of the songs on the new live disc come from his three most recent studio efforts, it truly offers listeners a career-spanning retrospective. Driven hard by the thick horn sound crafted by trumpeter Terry Townson and saxophonist Don Wise and some bruising barroom piano by Kevin McKendree, McClinton takes the audience on a joyous foot-stomping ride through the honky-tonk blues, soul, and rock-and-roll that has been his bread and butter for better than four decades.

The disc opens with two scorching blues numbers from 1997's One of the Fortunate Few -- "Old Weakness (Comin' on Strong)" and "Leap of Faith" -- and basically keeps it rolling hard as McClinton leads his band through his honky tonky version of British pub-rocker Mickey Jupp's "I'm with You" and his own sizzling "I Wanna Thank You Baby", a big brash rocker from 1981's Plain from the Heart.

The difficulty with judging live albums, generally, is that they too often fail to impart the live experience to the listener. That's because the experience depends on a lot more than just the music. The experience is dictated by a host of factors -- by the stage show, perhaps, or the reaction of the audience. The simple fact is that those listeners lucky enough to be sitting in the club, the theater or the stadium when the band rumbles through its material are the only ones who can truly get the feel of the show.

But throughout this forceful, enthusiastic set, McClinton keeps the crowd engaged -- you almost can hear the audience stomping and dancing in the aisles as he jams through "Squeeze Me In," "Why Me?" (with its frenetic piano and screaming sax) and the disc's explosive versions of "Livin' It Down" (a mean and nasty blues) and "Giving It up for Your Love".

Even when he slows the pace, as he does on the gritty, plaintive "I Want to Love You", the melancholy "Don't Want to Love You" from Room to Breath or the traditional blues "Rebecca, Rebecca" (on which he seems to be channeling the ghost of Muddy Waters, though the soul of Bobby "Blue" Bland), McClinton finds a way to keep the energy level percolating. His smoky baritone -- on "Don't Want to Love You", for instance -- manages to imply a mix of bitterness and fear and loneliness, sitting atop the simple melody as Terry Towson's trumpet lends quiet confirmation. And on Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember," you almost feel the crowd swaying together.

The showstopper here is his extended version of "B-Movie Boxcar Blues," a song he recorded early in his career as a quick rave-up with Glen Clark on Delbert & Glen and then reprised in 1978 on Second Wind -- the same year the Blues Brothers recorded their own muscular version of the song. On Live, McClinton stretches it out, gives each member of his amazing band a chance to shine -- including a fiery harmonica solo by McClinton, himself, a performance that reminds the listener that McClinton is one of the blues harp's legendary players.

The closing tune -- a sweet, honey-drenched version of Billy "The Kid" Emerson's old Sun Records classic, "Little Fine Healthy Thing" -- is as fine a conclusion as you could find for a live show and a live disc, a rocking, soulful song that seems to sum up an entire evening of good-time blues and rock and roll, leaving the crowd wanting more and more. What else could you want from a live show -- or live disc.

As I said, there is nothing weak at all about this live outing.





'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.